Celeste Zepponi | The Art of Being God’s Child

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Come with us, and you will see, God seeks the child in you and in me

And praise Him, worship Him, jump for joy, just run to Him

His loving arms will always lift a child

He really wants to love you as His child…. 

So go a portion of the lyrics in one of the original songs in Celeste Zepponi’s album Inside the Rainbow. Like the whimsical colorful angels that adorn so much of her painting, there is a very childlike lightness and a playful rhythm to her tunes, but it would be disingenuous to classify them as “childish’ or even “for children only.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

One of the profound and precious realities of the faith is that the heart and soul of the gospel bears an uncluttered simplicity. Celeste’s personal journey with Jesus is itself the perfect illustration of a trusting child with a loving Father. Her “return” to childhood began partly as a search for the spontaneity and freedom she saw in the artwork of her young students. What she experienced, however, as she relinquished the rigidity of her adult confines, was a depth of relationship with her Lord that transformed every aspect of her life.

Beginnings

Celeste is the sixth of seven children born to Iris and Seddon Jacob of Clarksdale. Her earliest memories include crawling behind her mother’s sofa with her crayons and using the back of it for her canvas. There was never a time she did not love to draw and to paint. “Art was so natural to me that I just really didn’t think of it as anything special. I just always did it,” she says.

Deciding that positions for art teachers were few and far between, Celeste chose elementary education as her major when she enrolled at Delta State University. And yet, she says, “I never could get away from art.” She was frequently commissioned to paint murals in peoples’ homes and also had a side business of painting faux finishes. “I did a lot of art in my classroom and eventually set up a studio in my back yard where I taught art lessons after school.”

It was there on an ordinary afternoon that Celeste’s unexpected new journey with Jesus began. She had become increasingly conscious of the characteristic freedom with which her young students approached their art. Celeste saw a certain honesty and purity in their work that she did not see in her own. At that point most of her own art involved pleasing a client or a decorator so there was really limited leeway for her personal unfettered creativity to just let go. On that afternoon she said to her eight year old student, “Today you are going to teach me to paint,” and his advice was this. “Mrs. Zepponi, you just paint anything you want to paint and pretend like you are eight years old.”

For Celeste everything else seemed to stop. She felt that God was speaking to her through the advice of this child. Being the responsible and task-oriented adult that she was, she had to justify in her mind the time slot she would give herself each day to “paint like an eight-year-old,” so, she decided to incorporate this creative time into her prayer time, her time of meeting Jesus, sharing with Him the joy of the most favorite thing He had given her to do.

The Zepponi Family, left to right: Son Fred, III; Fred, Celeste, Daughter Lana, Son Chris Blaylock

“…And that was art for fun. I wanted to have fun with Jesus. We always pray to the Lord for our needs, and we always go to the Lord with our ‘lists.’” Scripture tells us from Genesis through Revelation that God desires fellowship with his children. Celeste began to take to heart the admonition in Matthew 18:3 to “become like little children.”

She would take her sketch pad, and with no pre-determined plan begin to “doodle” as she called it. In the beginning the drawings were “round and buggy,” but then she began putting wings on them. Eventually, the angel figures seemed to be worshiping. Celeste realized that her drawing and sketching was indeed worship for her and scripture evoked this great desire to meet with Jesus, use her gifts and let Him direct the “doodling.” She never intended that anyone else would see these sketches. Her art was simply part of her offering and worship and alone time with the Lord.

Her preference for angels was something that evolved. Since no one really knows what an angel looks like although scripture records numerous instances of their appearing, Celeste was free to draw them with great freedom and choice of color.

And God Gave New Gifts

One evening as Celeste was about to end her “doodling” she began to write words of praise into the painting and then she began to sing, just making up the words as she went along. For the next year of her life, she would paint an angel and then write another song. “It didn’t happen every time,” she says, “but it happened a lot. I didn’t know the notes of music; I had no background in music at all, but I would write down the words and the melodies stayed with me. I just did it and I am convinced it was a spiritual encounter. What I believe is that when we are in the presence of the Lord, our heart cannot help but sing.” Could it be that in her child-like posture of complete worship and total trust in His presence, she was free to receive these songs as God gave them to her?

Over the next several months Celeste wrote numerous children’s songs. She would wake up in the morning and they would just come to her. She had no plans to share the songs with anyone else. They were simply a very special overflowing blessing that resulted from her fellowship times with the Lord, but she was indeed aware that she had been given a gift and she questioned whether or not there was something she was supposed to do with it.

Her priest, Father Brian Carroll, gave this advice. “Look, Celeste. If this is from the Lord, He will use it. If it is not from the Lord, do not worry about it.”

“And I took his advice,” she says.

When St. Elizabeth’s Catholic School in Clarksdale approached her about teaching an art class, she accepted the invitation even though she had declined their requests several times previously. “I just felt in my spirit,” Celeste explains, “that this was something God wanted me to do this time.”

Being the conscientious person that she is, she wanted it to be the best art class she could possibly put together. The very first thing she did was to research art programs in Catholic schools and discovered that the premier expert on the subject was a Catholic nun named Sister Marie Vianney who had written a book on the very subject. She just happened to live in Memphis, about sixty miles north of Clarksdale. Celeste made an appointment with her intending to get Sister Marie to guide her efforts.

The Holy Spirit had other ideas. As Celeste sat down with Sister Marie, the sister said, “Now, first let me explain my chapter on color.” Celeste said, “Oh Sister Marie, I wrote this song about color.”

Colors, colors colors, colors everywhere
Can you see the colors? They’re on your face, they’re in your hair
The colors you wear reflect the light
The way the stars do through the night
The colors are for us to see, a world of color for you and me…

For the next 45 minutes Celeste sang her children’s songs for Sister Marie, who was so excited she called the music director, had Celeste record them and told her she would be taking them to Nashville where she had some connections in the music industry.

Surrender

Celeste returned to Clarksdale, taught her art classes, continued to enjoy her meaningful fellowship and worship and was still quite content if no one except herself ever knew about her surprise gift of song writing.

One day she got a call from Scott Goudeau, a producer in Nashville. He introduced himself and said, “There is a Catholic nun who will not leave me alone until I call you.” And all of a sudden, everything – the money, the producer, everything she possibly needed to produce an album was there.

Celeste was slightly reluctant. Even if she made a CD, what was she supposed to do with it? She wasn’t a musician, and she didn’t consider herself a singer either. She was a wife and mother and art teacher and that was pretty much more than enough for her.

Her husband Fred reminded her that the Bible says gifts aren’t given for an individual – they are meant for community, to be shared. Even though they did not know what God possibly wanted to do with her little songs, they decided to take this next step since it had presented itself. Celeste remembers telling God during mass right after she finished the album. “Okay, Lord, I did the album. But you know I am not a solo singer, a speaker or anything like that. Whatever it is that you want to do with this, do it…but basically let someone else sing them in public. I’m not your girl for that.”

A year and a half went by. Celeste had not done anything with her album She had no burning desire to market it, but it bothered her that God had not made it clear to her what He did want her to do with it. She decided to spend a week at the Dwelling Place, a retreat center in East Central Mississippi, where silent reflective retreats are offered. Celeste hoped that in that quiet setting, away from all distractions, God would guide her next steps. And He did, but not the way she had expected, or planned, or wanted.

One morning during her prayers as she was gazing at a picture of Jesus on the wall of her room, she realized that the reason she had not figured out what she was supposed to do with the album was that she had been so busy telling God, “No” that she had shut Him out of the equation. It was her very own self-consciousness that was in the way.

She realized that when God gives a gift or calls a person to do something, He is not going to give their gift to someone else. Therefore, if that person refuses to use the gift, it goes unused. Remembering the joy and happiness that had come to her with each song, the very thought that she would ignore God or refuse to share the songs He had given her broke her heart. She went into the chapel by herself, literally lay down before the cross and wept as she said, “Okay God. If it means that much to you that I go sing these little songs…if it blesses you and brings worship to you and you won’t give them to someone else and I’m asking you to…well, I’ll do it. I’ll do it afraid.”

Only someone who has ever experienced the debilitating and engulfing panic of stage-fright can fully appreciate what happened next. Her fear evaporated and she felt only peace. Celeste’s explanation is that God healed her of her fear that instant – because in those moments she truly loved Him more than she loved herself. It was not about her at all.

Letting God Direct the Path

As a speaking ministry opened up and Celeste found herself performing her songs, painting her angels, and sharing her faith journey, it became all joy and all fun, much like those first encounters with Jesus and the “doodling.”

I think the Lord said to me once in prayer, ‘Celeste, if you want to follow me, you have to understand you have to let me go first,” she says with a smile.

Celeste finds great delight these days in letting the Lord go first!

Lesson learned. Celeste has a sort of serenity about her. Nothing is forced. Nothing is pretentious, and although she has this easy-going countenance, she also has a twinkle in her eyes and an enthusiastic sense of adventure about her unique journey with Jesus.

Celeste’s grandsons Hazard and Charlie.

Her retreats, steeped in prayer and scripture, focus on helping women discover their individual gifts and offer them to Jesus in worship as well as in community as God directs. The resulting joy, blessing, and intimacy with the Lord keep one’s cup overflowing – something like a well-watered spring.

Celeste does not promote herself. She continually seeks to draw close to Jesus so that she stands ready whenever she is called. God is pretty much her agent and she continues to be amazed at doors He opens. Initially, in those first days after God healed her of her self-conscious fear, she thought perhaps He was going to open the way for some grand ministry, but she says she realized that was not what He wanted to do at all. “What He wants for me is for me to wait till He opens a door and then for me to do what I do. He’s kept me little, very simple and when He calls, I go. And in the in between times, I’m supposed to clean my house, take care of my family and paint as worship…and that’s it. Just as I started out on day one, to sit and do art with Him as worship.”

Celeste loves to encourage her granddaughters in “Mimi’s” studio. Grace, Natalie, and Emma are promising students!

On those occasions, however, when she is called to speak, she knows the Holy Spirit has a purpose. She blocks out weeks for preparation and much prayer, and her prayer is always, “OK, Lord. You’re doing something and I’m thankful that I can be a little part of it. We’re not worthy to proclaim, but Jesus, your son, is worthy to be worshiped. So dear Father, overlook my inadequacies, my unworthiness so that Jesus is praised. And because of that, Lord, bring your Holy Spirit to do what you want to do.”

She adds, “And it happens…and it’s wonderful.”

For more information on Celeste, her works and her testimony, visit CelesteZepponi.com. 

Click on links below to preview and purchase Celeste’s music in iTunes! 

ITUNES for Inside The Rainbow

ITUNES for You Are Enough

AMAZON for You Are Enough

 

O COME O COME EMMANUEL CD COVERITUNES for O Come O Come Emmanuel

 

 

And keep scrolling down for more images of Celeste’s amazing work and sketches!